‘Not everyone with an eating disorder is going to be stick thin’

Harriet Davis.
Harriet Davis.

A medical student from Lisburn has made a film showing that you don’t have to be ‘stick thin’ to have an eating disorder.

Harriet Davis is challenging the stereotypes about anorexia and bulimia after a doctor told her, “I’ve seen worse than you”.

The 24-year-old, who is currently studying medicine at Lancaster University, was later hospitalised after her illness became life-threatening.

With the help of Fixers, the charity which gives young people a voice, she has made a film challenging stereotypes about eating disorders.

Urging people to watch her ‘Skin Deep: Eating Disorders’ video on YouTube, Harriet explained what inspired her to make the film.

“I want medical professionals to realise that you don’t need to look a certain way to have an eating disorder,” she said.

Harriet with her mum, Elaine.

Harriet with her mum, Elaine.

“I remember going to the doctors with my mum – my weight was borderline healthy and the GP said ‘I’ve seen worse than you, so you’ll be okay’ and just told me to eat more.

“At that time I didn’t understand the full implications of what I was doing, and hearing that just made me feel like I didn’t have a problem and it was fine to keep restricting food.

“GPs need to know when to refer people to specialist services and what help is available in the area – in the past I’ve felt like GPs haven’t known what help was around and what could be offered to me.

“Early intervention is crucial. I want my film to show people in the medical profession, as well as the general public, that not everyone with an eating disorder is going to be stick thin.”

Harriet developed an eating disorder at the age of 15 after starting dieting.

“I felt like I’d gained some weight and I wanted to lose it. I started dieting, and I got very restrictive very quickly,” she explained.

“I felt like I looked bigger than I was and I really wanted the positive feeling of losing weight and looking thinner.

“In addition, there were quite a few deaths in the family in a short space of time and looking back I think it had a big emotional impact on me.”

After her condition worsened she went to St George’s Hospital in London, where she received treatment for seven months before being discharged.

But she struggled to overcome the eating disorder and she relapsed five years later.

“I struggled to eat anything,” Harriet continued. “I was cold all the time, my hands and feet were numb constantly, and I worried some nights when I went to bed about my heart and if I’d wake up in the morning.

“I lost motivation to talk and interact with others, and my friends didn’t know what to do or say to help me.”

Harriet was admitted to The Priory hospital, where she spent a year recovering.

After attending therapy groups, working on weight gain and meeting with an occupational therapist, she was discharged.

She resumed her studies in 2015 and is determined to complete her degree.

“If I didn’t have medicine I think I’d just be in and out of hospital because I wouldn’t feel like I had a purpose in life,” she said.

Harriet advises anyone who is suffering from an eating disorder to find something in life they are passionate about.

“Let your drive be focused on a constructive rather than destructive purpose,” she added.

“Realise that you can be ‘rescued’ by doctors and nurses, but in order to recover you also need to become your own ‘rescuer’ and use the tools you’ve been given to cast off the blanket of the eating disorder and create a new way of comforting yourself.”

• Fixers works with young people aged 16-25 across the UK by providing them with resources to help them campaign on issues they feel strongly about.

The charity has helped more than 19,000 youngsters across the UK to have a voice in their community on issues such as cyber-bullying, self-harm, suicide or transphobia.

For more information, or to make a donation to help fund more Fixer projects, log on to www.fixers.org.uk

• For information about services offered by the Priory Group log on to www.priorygroup.com/eating-disorders